Success on every project? It's a nice goal, but it isn't reality. The three general project success determiners are on time project delivery, on budget project delivery and overall customer satisfaction. Even though we all know that most project managers experience failure to some degree on more than 50% of their projects in one of these key areas, we still hold out that hope that we could win on every project. We could bring every project home on time, on budget, and with a smile on every project customer’s face. Wouldn’t that be nice? Yes, it certainly would. But it isn’t going to happen.
In reality, it matters more on what success means to you in your growth as a project manager. Certainly your executive management team wants you to be successful in financial, timeframe, and customer terms on each project and so do you. But that isn’t going to happen. I’ve had a great PM career so far, in my opinion, but I’ve had a multi-million dollar project canceled on me in mid-stream because of a budget overrun, I’ve had frustrated customers come to me telling me their losing confidence in my team’s ability to deliver, and I’ve had management give me directions that seemed to be – and sometimes where – very detrimental to the forward progress of the engagement I was managing at the time.
What I’m really talking about here is being successful in terms of ‘what you do’ on each and every project you oversee. We can fail, but that failure is sometimes way beyond our control. No matter what we would do, that train wreck was still going to happen. But if we’re maintaining our PM perspective, practicing our own best practices, and staying focused on what we are supposed to be doing for our projects, for our teams, and for our project clients, then we’re being as successful as we can be on each and every one of our projects, right?
So, if your project is faltering, seek help. Certainly alert your PMO director and get assistance or add the right talent to your team to help get you through the project storm. Be open and honest with your customer on where things stand on the project – they may be able to assist. Certainly they deserve the chance to try – after all it is their project. But also stay true to project management best practices. And specifically, continue to focus on these four areas...
Maintain effective and efficient communication on the project. Keeping the project team, customer, and your own senior management is extremely important on every project and even more important if your project is experiencing difficulties. During those times, especially, you need to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Practice thorough risk management. Ensuring you’re working to identify and then mitigate and/or avoid potential project risks is one of the best ways to keep your project on track. This critical step is often overlooked or skipped to save time and cost – often with disastrous consequences later on in the engagement.
Manage the project budget closely. By reviewing and re-forecasting the project budget every week and educating your team and client on budget status you can go a long way in helping to ensure long term financial health for the project. It’s far easier to correct a 10% budget overrun than it is a 50% budget overrun and that’s what you could be facing if you aren’t managing the budget closely every week.
Manage the scope of the project. It’s easy to get busy and it’s easy to let things slide when that happens. But allowing add-on work at the customer’s request or due to vague project requirements will quickly kill the project budget and timeline. When work is being performed or is requested by the customer that falls outside of the agreed upon requirements of the project, then it’s a must for the project manager to create change orders to cover that work. That’s the only way to keep the project budget and timeline on track when scope starts to creep.
The bottom line is we must stick to doing what we do best – practicing consistent project management processes that are, in general, in the best interest of our projects and customers. Certainly, we must take corrective action on projects when necessary, but sticking to the basics is also a must because that’s where the long-term success will come from. That’s where consistent success originates.
What about our readers...what areas do you recommend focusing on if your project begins to falter? What best practices do you suggest sticking to and how do you maintain consistency in the face of project failure?